Pool of the Dead, Cotopaxi Mountain.
A forever second later . . .
“I’ve already crossed, Juan.”
I look back and notice he’s got two duffel bags and one of those MP-5 sub-machine guns strapped to his shoulder. 30 rounds, 3 seconds. I hope that will be fast enough.
Esta bien, Juan, I tell him. Let me look around. Cover me.
He nods, setting the bags down and pulling out a pair of goggles for himself. I’ve got my own set, stuck in my left eye. For a moment I feel like throwing-up, this nausea sweeping over me, but then it’s gone and I can see.
My left eye—my death-vision—it sees the glow again. This place is anything but dead. It’s alive with purple and violet and green color, as if tons of glow-sticks have been broken and poured inside the cadavers of each and every dead animal.
I walk closer to this decomposing cow and I notice some bright green spots near the throat, and I kneel down. I see what looks like teeth marks. These bites are small, maybe the size of a child, maybe smaller, though. And different.
I can’t tell what made these marks.
Maybe a biologist could tell you. But not me.
This all fits together, I just don’t know how. I’m missing something. A key to the cipher. A code breaker. I just need one bit to put all the ones and zeroes in order so that they make sense.
I wish I was smarter. I’ve seen hundreds of hours of Discovery Channel. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Animal Planet, National Geographic, Nova.
I see another glowing spot on the inside, upper part of the cows leg. And then another, and another. Something fed off of these animals in the way that somebody was feeding off of the children.
Different mouths to feed, but everybody’s thirsty.
I go to a smaller animal—a goat, I think. Same thing, bite marks on the insides of the legs, as well as some nibbles near the throat. The children didn’t have bruising on their necks. Only the inner arms and legs. As I inspect each animal I whisper my findings into my small Motorola radio. I know that everyone is listening, pondering, imagining.
But they’re quiet, letting me do what I do.
I’m seeing the Deadside echoes of what I think is the evidence of the escaped Evils. These are my footprints. But why right here? Why in this place on the side of a mountain that will surely erupt and cover it in molten lava and super-heated ash, killing and burying everything in a fiery instant?
This place, as I go from animal to animal, I get the feeling this isn’t so much a cemetery as it is a pantry. Ricky and I, at the loft, we have a pantry that’s full of cookies and Doritos and Campbell’s Thick and Chunky soups. Maybe this place is like our pantry? This might just be the place where they leave their snacks for later.
We keep our pantry door closed to keep out the rodents and bugs.
They mark their pantry with invisible Evil that the bugs and birds and curious living creatures will find impenetrable. I hate to go all nerd and use the term force-field, but I can’t think of any better a description.
Animal after animal, body after body, I see the same marks. Until I find a dog . . . and on the dog there’s no neck wound. This is what Ricky would call an anomaly. I need to pay attention to my location.
But of course, I’m standing in the dead center of the dead pool. This might be the index case.
I take a deep breath and slowly do a circle letting my left eye numbly take in everything. I’m not being discerning. I’m open to every bit of information I can absorb. And I notice something of a pattern.
The animals, as you spiral outward from the center, they are glowing brighter and brighter. This dog’s barely got any color to him. Just a barely visible reddish-purple. And, despite my better judgment, I touch the body to discover that it’s hardly warm at all.
The hotter they are, the closer we are.
The Jimenez boy, near the highway . . . he was really hot. That means, we were really close.
They may have been so close they were watching. As they may be now.
I whisper into my radio, “Juan, do a thermal scan of the surrounding area, as quick as you can. I think they may be trying to bait us.”